Thursday, December 29, 2005

It's New Year's Resolution Time

I started working out at a gym a few weeks ago. I was gym shopping to see which one I liked. I finally chose one and signed on the dotted line. When I was chit chatting with the trainer doing my paper work, I asked him if it had been getting "busy". He told me "yes" it was picking up. He went on to say, "All the new year's resolution people. I've seen them before. It never lasts."

Whether I keep working out to achieve my fitness goals is my decision. Whether or not I follow through with the behaviors and create habits concerning physical training all hinges on whether or not I decide to keep doing it on a daily basis. This is much like following the teachings of Jesus.

The apostle Paul related discipleship to spiritual training. He talked about "running the race with patience". He talked about "gaining the prize" in the context of athletics. He even contrasted the importance of spiritual training over that of physical training. It is vital that believers today not just talk it but we must walk it. Jesus said, "If you love me you will keep my commandments". Lots of people do the religious weekly ritual of going to a church but do they really live out the teachings of Jesus Christ in their lives every day? If people who say they are God's people, i.e. "Christians", never follow through on their spirituality, no wonder there are people in our world who are skeptics about the faith. They've seen it all before. They know it will never last.

Instead of making a New Year's resolution to "be a better person" or to "read the Bible and pray more" or even to "get into shape", why not make a committment to living out the teachings of Jesus each day as opportunities present themselves? Perhaps that is what a lot of people have never seen before.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

I'm Taking My Ball And Going Home

When all of us were growing up there was quite possibly an instance we can relate to. You know it well. It could have been playing street hockey, sandlot baseball, back yard soccer or basket ball. The person who brought the ball, who owns the ball, who has the privilege of calling the ball, "my ball" gets disgruntled. They may get mistreated or upset at something. Then comes those words, "I'm not playing anymore!" When the person who owns the ball doesn't get his or her own way, they take their ball and go home.

I see Christianity in America at a crisis right now. I'm not referring to the wonderful work of God that is taking place everywhere in people's hearts through the good works of God's people. I am referring to the place of privilege that some Christians think we deserve. What do I mean by that? Please allow me to share.

The Founding Fathers for the most part were believers in God. Not all of them were but based on their writings and quotes, we can assume that most of them had a faith in God. Only a complete ignoramous could try to deny that. But these noble men set in place a system of government that allowed, in a democratic republic such as ours, for the majority to rule via the vote. At this point in our history, we have a majority of Americans that are not disciples of Christ (note that I didn't say "went to church" or "believe in God"). It is not surprising that the values of our government are no longer reflecting the values of our faith. Since things have shifted.

So here we have this quandry. We have founding fathers of a nation that believed in God and probably hoped we could truly be a Christian nation. On the other hand we have a majority of the 300 million people in the United States who do not have a biblical world view, who don't display the character and lifestyle of disciples of Christ and who have a right to vote. Our culture is being molded by power brokers and politicians who simply are not Christian. For the most part, it all came about through a legitimate democratic process. I believe that many religious Christians in America are upset simply because we don't get to make the rules now. We enjoyed power and prestige and those days are simply gone now.

For Christians in America to stand up and demand that America start behaving like a Christian nation is absurd as demanding that a fish start living and acting like a monkey. We can't expect that people hold to Judeo-Christian values just because people 200 years ago did. We can't expect people to adhere to Judeo-Christian principles just because we want them to. What is so important to realize is the reason why people used to follow Judeo-Christian values. People did so because they had a faith in God. They had an experience that changed their lives and it affected everything they did.

The goal of Christians should not be of demanding that people subscribe to our belief system so we can have a Christian government or a Christian nation. It should be to do what Jesus did, and commanded us to do...go and make disciples! We don't have a Christian nation (if there can be such a thing) because there are no disciples being made anymore. Did the early church demand that the Roman government change to accomodate their Christian preferences? Of course not. Did the early Christians in effect "take their ball and go home" because they didn't get to make the rules? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, they took the opportunity to make their faith a very real, vibrant and true to life experience in their time of trouble. They had a chance to put their money where their mouths were and be real disciples regardless of what their life situation was.

I think it's time American Christianity had the same attitude. Instead of taking our ball and going home because we don't get to make the rules, let's stay in the arena and play the game. Let's practice more and become better at what we're supposed to be doing instead of demanding everyone else to change. So we may have to change the game plan. Isn't that what every great team is good at?

Sunday, December 18, 2005


I was driving down the road the other day and was next to a box truck on a four-lane highway. I glanced at the truck and noticed a placard. It read, "Explosives".

It was interesting that I was just feet away from a deadly force but yet totally safe. Under the right conditions and depending on the volatility of the explosives, I could be dead. But that day I was safe.

I think there are two spiritual parallels that are illustrated here. Please allow me to expound.

First of all I think there are lots of people "driving around" our lives that we pull up beside and we see it...they are explosive. Say the right thing (or the wrong thing), drive the wrong way, take the parking spot or whatever it may be, unbeknownst to us, we've created the "right conditions" and we sustain injuries because of the explosion. If we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit of God, I think, despite our volatility, we can remain or become "safe" people.

Second, I am reminded of the power of God. It truly can be a deadly force. Remember the guy in the Old Testament story who, when the ark of the covenant carrying God's presence was coming back to town, went to steady with his hands the teetering box? WHAM! Struck dead as a door nail. Or how about Korah and his sons who rebelled agains Moses and God opened the ground up and swallowed them up? Don't forget Annanias and Saphira who lied to the Holy Spirit and were struck dead. God can be a deadly force.

But just like driving beside the box truck with explosives, we need to realize that with God, we are safe. Adam and Eve became afraid of God in the garden when they sinned. Prior to their sin they walked with God. They were friends and companions. Sin had made them fear God. Now knowing what God is capable of should put fear in our hearts but we should remember that Mankind's first interaction with God wasn't out of fear, but out of friendship.

Fastforward a couple of thousand years and in walks Jesus Christ, the second Adam as the New Testament calls him. This second Adam has come to do a couple of things. First he has come to let us know that we can be transformed into "safe" people buy a relationship with him and reflecting his character. Secondly he has come to tell us and show us that, instead of being afraid of God, we can be friends of God. In fact, Jesus himself referred to his disciples as "his friends".

There is a contingent of Christianity that believes that, although God has restored our relationship and friendship with God through Jesus Christ, they are the going to be the kind of people that instill fear into people. They want us to drive up beside being afraid he's going to explode instead of feeling safe. They want people to believe that God is an "unstable and volatile chemical compound" just ready to be upset and explode.

The biblical "boil down" is this, through the first Adam, sin and death entered the world and, subsequently, a fear of God. Through the second Adam (Jesus), sin is overcome and the relationship to God restored. And what kind of relationship was that? Read it. It's right there in Genesis. God walked with Adam in the cool of the day. He didn't loom over him ready to pound him to bits. Jesus called his disciples friends. Read it. It's right there in John 15: 14 & 15.

So, make sure you become and remain a friend of God.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I Went to Jail Yesterday

It's true. I was in jail. But it's not what you may think, you see, I was a visitor. I was there for an hour and a half and then I got to go home. The people I visited were young, some teenagers. Some were in gangs. Some stole some things. Some were busted for drugs. The point is they were there for a Bible study (they were believers) and I got to leave.

As I was there, and especially after I left, I felt a bit ashamed. After what I'm about to say, I hope all of us are ashamed a bit, at least those who claim to be Christians. I love Rick Warren and the Purpose-Driven Life. I read it twice. I think the Prayer of Jabez thing was cool. I have a copy of it somewhere. I think Joel Osteen and "Your Best Life Now" is a great idea. It's still on my shelf, haven't read it yet. So please don't misunderstand what I'm about to say. While many of us (me included!) are finding our purpose, getting our best life now and praying our little fad prayers to get all prospered and such, we (me included!) aren't focussing on living out the teachings of Jesus. Look at what Jesus said...

I was sick and you came to me.
I was in prison and you visited me.
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
I was hungry and you fed me.
I was naked and you clothed me.
When did we see you naked, hungry or in prison?

"When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me."

So let's get up to speed everybody. The world needs us and it isn't necessarily coming to church on Sunday! If we look at each of the things in the list above, it required something of the person doing the visiting or clothing or feeding. It required a bit of effort, time and perhaps even, money or resources.

I went to jail yesterday.

I am ashamed.

I need to start doing it unto the least a little more often. Anyone with me?

Lunatic Left-Wingers vs. Right-Wing Nuts

In America today there is constant bickering. You hear about "lunatic left-wing liberals" from "The Right" and you hear about "raging right-wing nuts " from "The Left". With all of this fighting going on, who gets to be right? Who is the enemy? Who's the good guy?

"The Right" say all kinds of things from the conservative mindset and attack the "Liberals" for what they stand for. If you look at some of what the liberals stand for, in some ways, it's a lot like what Jesus stood for. No really, think about it just for a moment.

Give money to the poor.
Don't say hateful things about other people.
Make peace instead of wage war.
Help those in need.
Don't condemn people who live alternative lifestyles.
Women have an equal place in society.

On the other hand (the "right" hand?), what "The Right" stands for is sometimes contradictory to what Jesus taught.

Be a rugged individual, earn money and you need not share. Others should do the same, fend for themselves.
It's your property, you earned it, keep off.
Freedom of speech baby. It doesn't matter if I offend you or not.

Now I understand that "The Right" has some redeeming qualities too but that's not my point. My point is that even though people on "The Right" may not like to admit it, people that lean a little left may really want to make a difference in the world and that difference may look a little like how Jesus would do it at times.

I think this kind of political divisiveness between Right and Left has no place in Christianity. If, as the Bible says, "our citizenship" is not of this world, but of the kingdom of God then why don't we act like it instead of getting bogged down in the whole "Left/Right" thing? We will miss opportunities to see the beauty of how God can knit us together if people get sucked into this way of thinking.

I go to a church where people vote Democrat because they're Democrats. There are people who vote Republican because they are Republican. Where in the Bible does anyone get to say one is better than the other? It doesn't but people sure are treated that way sometime.

There are people in my church that are pro-abortion. They support a woman's right to choose to have an abortion if she wants one for whatever reason. There are some who are pro-life. I don't care who you are or what political or moral persuasion you are of. Everyone who comes to a church has the right to be accepted, discipled, loved and cared for without being condemned, brow-beaten or mocked.

I'm glad that, even though I live in Massachusetts (typically a "Left" state), I can go to church with all of my Lunatic Left-Wing and Right-Wing Nut friends and we can just be brothers and sisters in the Lord. You can be of the political persuasion of your choice. Just don't drag those dividers into church.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

She Misses Their Messes

This morning I was talking on the phone with a woman from our church about her involvement in some things. She was telling me her history as a singer in a few churches in New York City. Her story included names and places that are familiar to a lot of people. She was raised in Brooklyn and just a few years ago relocated with family to Massachusetts.

One of the striking things she shared with me about her story is wrapped up in her quote to me. She was sharing how much she loved to share the love of God with people. Her words to me were, "I miss being with people with messed up lives." What a quote. What a heart! If anything exemplifies the heart of Jesus, this is it. Being with drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes etc. for the purpose of sharing the love of God is what made her "tick". NYC has lots of people with problems. So does New England. They really aren't that hard to find either.

I don't want what I'm about to say be misconstrued by any means. We have to have tools to carry out the Great Commission. Church buildings and technologies are an accepted means of being culturally relevant and when used correctly are effective. But let's not fool ourselves either. Religious Christianity has built buildings and put the names of the wealthy donors of those buildings on the walls. We've fund raised for our "stuff" so we can have nice carpets and elaborate, ornate furnishings. We've created a religious culture of how to look, how to appear to people, how to be "right". We've drawn lines about who is "saved" and who is "unsaved". We've developed rituals and routines to ease our consciences and for decades all across this country we have had people who "go to church" and are "religious" but aren't living like Jesus lived.

Jesus said, "I have come to seek and save that which is lost." He also said that it is the sick that need a doctor. In other words, he came to be with people with messed up lives. Facilities and tools will never take the place of people who just want to love people back to life. One man goes to work in a Mercedez-Benz while another takes public transportation. The fact is, they both get to work. The vehicle is merely a tool to get the job of "getting to work" done. The problem rests in the person who thinks he succeeds when he has nice things. The measure of success for the Church isn't "how many nice things do we have?", it's "are we making disciples?"

As we purpose to bridge gaps, repair breaches and reconcile people back to God we welcome those who want to see the sick people made well. With open arms we welcome you to help us seek and save that which is lost. We thank God for those who miss people's messes.